Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Milieu is a term used to refer to a social context, social surroundings or environment.

explanatory context

For example, cultural norms, economic constraints, historical trends and social expectations might all contribute to the milieu within which a group might live.

analytical review

Gramarist (undated) explains:

In English, milieu refers to a social environment, or sometimes more generally to any environment or location. It's often used to refer to social environments that are remote to the speaker and her presumed readers. The social worlds of artists and the wealthy, for instance, are often referred to as milieus, as are social worlds of bygone eras. But the word doesn't necessarily bear these connotations, and it's sometimes used in reference to more ordinary, accessible environments.

Milieu came to English from French in the 19th century. The Chambers Dictionary of Etymology traces the word's use in English to J.A. Symond's 1877 book Renaissance in Italy, but the OED finds one in an 1854 letter written by George Eliot. Google Books uncovers a few instances from earlier, but most are in the phrase juste milieu, an art term (referring to a middle way between opposing movements) in which milieu has a different sense.

The French plural of milieu is milieux. In English, both milieux and milieus are used, though milieux is more common in British English while milieus is more common in American English.

associated issues


related areas

See also




Gramarist, nd, 'Milieu', available at, accessed 10 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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